Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for $6
Fuelling around with a Renault Kangoo Renault Kangoo

Singapore to Kuala Lumpur for $6. No, this isn't the latest budget airline offer. It's a slow drive in a turbodiesel van

I THINK we should all be driving diesel cars.

Oh sure, I know what you're thinking. Diesel engines sound like washing machines with bronchitis. Also, their exhaust fumes smell like burning armpit hair.

But think of the bright side. If we all ditched petrol power and climbed into clattery diesels, we might just get rid of those annoying budget airlines with their confusing ads, convoluted, hyper-inflexible ticketing policies and stewardesses who don't wear tight kebayas.

So what if an airline can fly you to Kuala Lumpur for $10, when a Renault Kangoo can get you there for $6? This isn't mere theory. It actually happened.

I tried it once, when I drove a Kangoo to the Malaysian Grand Prix and back, and failed miserably, clocking up a fairly wretched 10km per litre of diesel. I blame that on oversleeping by two hours and having to floor it all the way to Sepang to catch the start of the race.

Those familiar with the Renault Kangoo will know that it's a neat panel van that drives like a small car. Unlike a small car, however, it is capable of accommodating Moses Lim, Lydia Sum, Sheikh Haikel and Irene Ang all at once, thanks to its enormous cargo area.

Now there's a 1.5-litre turbodiesel version available, which replaces the 1.9-litre diesel. Piloting this to KL, with plenty of time to admire the scenery along the way, I managed to wring a towering 20.4km from every litre of fuel. And I paid RM26 (S$11.63) at the pumps for the entire 700km trip to and fro.

This not only means that I've discovered a pleasant, efficient way of making the trip to KL, but also that I had more money than usual for beer upon arrival.

This journey was not without its difficulties. First, to drive a Kangoo, or any goods vehicle into Malaysia, you apparently need to obtain clearance from their equivalent of our Land Transport Authority.

I assume this was done in advance by the good people at Exklusiv Auto Services, but then again, no one seemed to mind the Kangoo turbo's presence in Malaysia.

If you're planning a similar trip, my advice is to bug your friendly Kangoo salesman for his tip on how to get the paperwork done.

Second, the expedition to KL was done at a pace carefully calculated to conserve fuel, with great pains taken to religiously maintain an optimal speed. And this scientifically determined speed was: slower than everyone else.

How slow were we going? Let's just say that, even two full hours after we entered Malaysia, we could still get Singapore stations loud and clear on the radio.

We crawled along at such a leisurely pace we were passed by everything on wheels that day, including the tiny motorcycles that confine themselves to the emergency lane. Each time they buzzed past on the left, their riders would peer quizzically into the Kangoo's cabin as if to say, 'Why are these dorks driving like they're stuck in reverse?'.

In fact, during the entire 350km-long Singapore-Kuala Lumpur leg, we only ever passed eight vehicles. Nine, if you count one fellow who parked his lorry beside the highway so he could water the shrubbery. Minutes later, he roared ahead of us again, doubtless in search of some severely dehydrated flora to rescue.

What made the journey extra tough to bear was the fact that, about 106km along the way, I lifted a bottle of water to my lips just as we went over a bump, and ended up spilling half the contents onto my trousers.

This was doubly embarrassing because I not only looked as if I'd wee-weed in my trousers, but sitting beside me was a woman from Shin Min Daily. With my underpants soaked by icy water, and the promise of dry clothing waiting at the end of the journey, I was tempted to throw the Kangoo into full steam ahead.

But holding fast to our fuel-saving ideals, we kept our speed steady and reached KL with the fuel gauge needle nestling just above the one-third marker. A few attempts at quick mental sums later, I used my mobile phone's calculator to figure out that we'd gone through perhaps 14 litres of diesel to cover 355.8km, yielding us a Greenpeace-pacifying consumption figure of 25.4km per litre.

On the flipside, what we saved in fuel we had spent on time. We'd taken 6 1/2 hours to reach KL.

Reasoning that we'd proven our point, we decided to do the return journey a little faster. On some stretches, we actually doubled our speed from the day before, resulting in a rapid increase in fuel consumption. But at 78 sen per litre of Petronas diesel, we could well afford it.

Besides, splitting the bill between myself and my companion from Shin Min, we each ended up paying $3 for fuel, which is fairly amazing for a round trip. In fact, here's an equally astounding thing to think about: The Kangoo turbo is so efficient that, at Singapore pump prices, it can conceivably do 1,000km for just $46.50.

 Unless, of course, you use it to ferry Moses Lim, Lydia Sum, Sheikh Haikel and Irene Ang around in the back.